HIGH The most bangin’ hub world theme in the history of hub world themes
LOW So. Much. Backtracking.
WTF “Gracing the fabric of leisure-time and blowing away humankind in a sea of heavy weave 100% cotton comfort”
Shantae: Half-Genie Hero feels remarkably alive. Being pretty is relatively common in this day and age, but it’s impressive when a game is brimming with energy like this. Every single thing on screen is animated and lively in some way, plus the music is about as catchy as catchy can be. However, the production quality is ultimately for naught considering that Half-Genie Hero, the fourth entry in the Shantae series of 2D platformers, comes up far short in other areas. While it isn’t a total wash, there just isn’t a lot of depth beneath the shine.
Shantae, the belly-dancing, hair-whipping half-genie hero, is the official guardian of Scuttle Town, which she must defend against pirates, monsters, shady businessmen, and evil wizards. Shantae is a great protagonist, personifying the energy that flows through the entire game, and she’s surrounded by a colorful cast of characters that all share the same exuberance in one way or another. Unfortunately, Half-Genie Hero makes some very strong assumptions about one’s familiarity with the Shantae family, and for a first-timer like me it was a bit bewildering. I had no idea who any of these people were, why they were important, or what their relationship was to Shantae.
Gameplay is standard 2D platformer fare, with Shantae running and hopping through enemies and obstacles. She also gains access to several different animal forms, each with unique abilities. While the transformation mechanic is something I’ve loved since The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, only a few of the available forms are useful beyond very specific instances. The rest function simply as glorified keys. This ties into Half-Genie Hero’s biggest problem: lots of pretty toys, but little for the player to do with them since each level or mechanic changes very little beyond its introduction.
Half-Genie Hero’s most annoying problem however, is the copious amount of backtracking required. While everything in this game is beautiful, the amount of levels to explore is actually pretty small. In order to progress, Shantae has to visit each level at least two or three times to look for items or power-ups, and these repeat visits get old pretty quickly. While the game has a great sense of humor about common videogame tropes like backtracking, it doesn’t change the fact that making players do what they’re making fun of still dampens the experience.
As stated before, Half-Genie Hero is absolutely stunning from an artistic standpoint. “Playing a cartoon” has been an overused phrase in the recent past, but it definitely applies here. The character models look like they jumped right off an animation cel, and the environments are gorgeous. Unfortunately, on-screen objects are so fluid that it can be hard to see individual objects at times, such as when there are objects or enemies jumping back and forth between the background. Effects like explosions or fire can be almost screen-filling as well, further blocking the player’s vision.
Shantae: Half-Genie Hero is pleasant but shallow. The initial “wow” factor of the wonderful aesthetics wears off once the backtracking starts, and the game never recovers. It looks wonderful, but no amount of prettiness can cover up gameplay that can’t come close to the quality of the visuals.
Disclosures: This game is developed and published by WayForward. It is currently available on Xbox One, Playstation 4, Wii U, Playstation Vita and PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PC. Approximately 7 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed.
Parents: According to the ESRB Shantae: Half-Genie Hero is rated Teen for Suggestive Themes and Cartoon Violence. While Shantae and most of her compatriots are scantily clad and very well-endowed, there isn’t really anything I would consider objectionable here for a younger child. There isn’t any overtly sexual content and the story is pretty lighthearted.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing: All relevant lines are subtitled and audio is not a gameplay factor.
Remappable Controls: Controls are fully remappable for the keyboard and the controller.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.
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